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The National Eater 38: Where to Eat in 2015

The restaurants that define American dining in 2015

On April 10 last year, I started my job as Eater’s first restaurant editor with a flight to Los Angeles. Shortly after touchdown I launched into a torrent of consumption that began with chorizo and chicken mole tacos on freckled tortillas and ended nine hours later with scrambled eggs and uni on toast, duck liver mousse with pickled Asian pear, spaghetti tossed with Dungeness crab, and strawberries over mascarpone sabayon.

That Thursday kicked off the 263 on-the-clock meals I consumed in 29 cities during seven months of travel (or, more precisely, 147 days in the field) in 2014. My pound-packing task: to compile Eater's inaugural roll call of the 38 essential restaurants in America, an idea that builds on the Eater 38 lists maintained by our local editors in 24 cities across the U.S. (and in Montreal). Documenting my journey of feasts in the yearlong Road to the 38 series, I asked myself about the meaning of the word essential at every stop: What are the indispensable restaurants across the nation right at this moment of our culinary history? Which ones jump-start the trends, which reset notions of cooking and hospitality, which illuminate a place or time? What assembly of restaurants, ultimately, reflects the fundaments of our culture? This is my answer.

These names — the most memorable and enriching among my scores of meals — represent not only a roster of exquisite eating at every tier but also a group portrait of regional diversity and exceptional individuals. Of course I couldn't lift a knife and fork at every noteworthy restaurant across the country; this project is designed to be a work in progress. I'll be off again soon to cities ripe for exploring and to hallmarks of gastronomy that deserve fresh consideration. In the meantime, dig in. Let the standouts from my year of field research serve as your dining road map for 2015.

CONVERSATION STARTERS

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Interior of Rose's Luxury

Restaurants that shatter the gastronomic status quo and set the standard for contemporary cuisine


Bar Tartine's rainbow trout brown rice

San Francisco, CA

Bar Tartine

Among chefs who compose menus around personal proclivities (rather than a specific cuisine or style), Nicolaus Balla and Cortney Burns stand alone in their obsessiveness. Their menu entwines flavors from Japan, Hungary, the Middle East, and Middle America with borderless fluidity, and every dish has an element they’ve pickled, cured, cultured, inoculated, infused, or dried. Their penchant for fermentation connects the restaurant in philosophy to nearby sister operation Tartine Bakery, San Francisco’s game changer for naturally leavened bread. It may sound like Bar Tartine doubles as a food-science workshop, but the food is ambrosial rather than laboratorial. Sink a spoon into sprouted lentil croquettes wallowing in yogurt-like kefir, beet sauce, spinach, turmeric oil, and zingy cilantro chutney. Or swipe roasted, smoked, and fried potatoes through dabs of heady black garlic and aioli punchy with pickled ramps. Vegetarians eat remarkably here, though carnivores can relish the multitextured nuances of beef tartare with dried beef on toast. This is one restaurant where a $3 surcharge for country loaf feels like a steal. Read the Full Review Here


Ignacio Mattos

Estela chef Ignacio Mattos [Photo: Daniel Krieger]

New York, NY

Estela

A 55-seat charmer housed in a former knitting factory (also formerly home to The Knitting Factory venue) in downtown Manhattan, Estela earned solid reviews after opening in 2013. Its renown kept building, though, on the strength of Uruguayan-born chef Ignacio Mattos's singular ingredient combinations and the seductive beverage list assembled by co-owner Thomas Carter. Many of Mattos's most admired dishes have a wonderful hide-and-seek quality: He literally layers his flavors. A forest-ground blanket of button mushroom disks covers ricotta dumplings; fried potato wafers conceal a hunk of rib eye funked up with taleggio. Even brunch haters venture out on weekends for the smash-hit sandwich of egg, avocado, and pancetta stacked atop Danish tea pastry. Read the Full Review Here


Gunshow Joseph Howard

Gunshow chef de cuisine Joseph Ward

Atlanta, GA

Gunshow

It’s hard to say no to the cooks at Atlanta’s most dynamic restaurant. Each week chef-owner Kevin Gillespie and his crew decide on a few dishes they’ll each prepare, and as they’re ready, the team takes them out to the dining room on carts and trays to personally describe them. Ethiopian-style braised lamb? Whole hog barbecue, cornbread, bourbon-soaked peaches, and coleslaw? Thai red curry duck leg? The kitchen heeds no national or stylistic borders in their cooking, and each person focuses on their own predilections. Keep an especially sharp eye out for chef de cuisine Joseph Ward’s tweaks on standards, like a reinvented beef Wellington with crisp pastry or his glorious, gloppy "West Coast Burger." This isn’t a place for quiet conversation: It’s loud, it’s bright, it’s participatory and immersive, and it’s awesome. Read the Full Review Here


Photo by Bill Addison

Chicken and egg with rice bowl at Momofuku

New York, NY

Momofuku Noodle Bar

Even after a decade of nationwide — nay, global — fetishism and imitation, it’s still a joy to return to the East Village restaurant where David Chang’s Momofuku empire launched. From the Noodle Bar came creations like rice cakes in chile sauce with caramelized onions, ramen with bacon-enhanced pork bone broth, and (they need no introduction) steamed Chinese buns swabbed with hoisin and folded around pork belly squares with scallions and cucumber. Don’t discount the contentment these dishes continue to deliver in their archetypal rightness. The rich stew of faces and languages among the never-ending crowds is so New York. It’s a testament to how Chang’s eldest succeeds not just as an accomplished kitchen but also as an egalitarian haven. Read the Full Review Here


Asparagus with pineapple aioli and fried jalapeños at Rose's Luxury

Washington, DC

Rose's Luxury

Myriad accolades have helped push the wait for a prime-time table at Washington DC’s buzziest restaurant to two hours or longer. The silver lining? The experience exudes warmth in every way. The staff makes customers feel extra pampered once they make it inside the converted two-story townhouse, beginning with speedy drink service and an evolving array of sumptuous breads. Chef-owner Aaron Silverman distills his eclectic experience (at Momofuku Noodle Bar and McCrady’s in Charleston, among others) into a short, ever-shifting menu. His dishes may unite seemingly disparate ingredients, but they're never too busy, and a knack for acidity keeps every bite lively. Crumbled pork sausage blanketed with lychees, coconut cream, red onion spears, and herbs dazzled in the spring with its floral, tropical flavors. Silverman's cacio e pepe remains a deserving staple. Read the Full Review Here


Vedge exterior

Philadelphia, PA

Vedge

Plainly stated, Vedge is the best meat-free restaurant in America. It stands as a culinary X-Man of the genre, an astounding evolutionary leap advanced by Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby’s accomplished cooking. The format couldn’t be more modern: a swank multiroomed restaurant in a Center City brownstone with designer lighting, knotty hardwood floors, and a kinetic menu of gorgeous small plates. Yellow beets roasted on a bed of salt, for example, form the base of a cylindrical terrine layered with avocado, smoked tofu, capers, red onion, and cucumbers. In a sculptural dish inspired by the flavors of a Reuben sandwich, smoked carrots stand in for brisket, with a tangle of cabbage bridging the gap between sauerkraut and kimchi and a strip of pumpernickel bread crumbs underscoring the Eastern European influences. Nothing about the dining experience feels overtly dogmatic. The place simply serves breathtaking food that also happens to be vegan. Read the Full Review Here

REGIONAL AMERICANA

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Portland's Eventide

Kitchens where cooks champion the ingredients, techniques, and soul of their local culture


Chicken "al mattone" with stone-ground polenta at the Café at Chez Panisse

Berkeley, CA

Cafe at Chez Panisse

Chez Panisse, serving a prix-fixe menu that changes nightly, is arguably America's most famous restaurant: It helped propel the California cuisine movement and reroute the nation's culinary trajectory. The upstairs cafe opened in 1980 as an adjunct for diners seeking a more casual option. Over the years it has developed its own personality as the spunkier younger sister who is, frankly, more fun to be around. The cafe's à la carte menu has grown in length through the decades, and the kitchen feels more limber in its creativity. Salads, pizzettas, and entrees practically vibrate with just-in-the-door freshness. And whoa, the desserts. They spoil you for fruit everywhere else in the country. This is the Chez Panisse experience that best encapsulates California right now. Read the Full Review Here


The clambake at Eventide

Portland, ME

Eventide Oyster Co.

Lobster will always be Maine's king crustacean, but this nonstop-crowded bar in Portland specializes in the state's other seafood star. The menu divides the oysters, displayed over ice on a counter cut from rugged granite, into categories using local parlance: "From Maine" and "From Away." Start by slurping local gems like citrusy Pemaquids from the Damariscotta River. Accoutrements go traditional (cocktail sauce, mignonette) and inventive (ices flavored with blasts of cucumber and ginger or kimchi). A palm-sized lobster roll arrives stuffed in a steamed Asian bun. Though clearly reveling in New England flavors (don't miss the Maine blueberry pie in high summer), the kitchen's cross-cultural playfulness gives Eventide a winning edge. Read the Full Review Here


FIG Bar

FIG's bar [Photo by Andrew Cebulka]

Charleston, SC

FIG

It says something about FIG that my Charleston friends love it as much as the tourists, even if the locals do resent having to hustle so hard for a table. Mike Lata and his executive chef Jason Stanhope buy seafood from local fishermen and surround them with deft Italian, French, and New American flavors. The breadth of influences doesn’t diminish the sense of place engendered in the food, which is buoyed by a sly use of quintessential Lowcountry ingredients. Whipped buttermilk glosses smoked mackerel. Corn flour-dusted skate wing is anchored to the region by Carolina Gold "middlins," or broken rice grits that have been a local favorite for centuries, and benne, the African strain of sesame seeds. Like the cooking, service epitomizes Southern graciousness. Read the Full Review Here


Galatoire's interior

New Orleans, LA

Galatoire's

In New Orleans, where the veil between past and present is thinner than in any other American city, Galatoire's remains a vital experience. The French Quarter old-liner, established in 1905, is most famous for its Friday lunch, where the business elite jump-starts the weekend over Sazeracs and shrimp rémoulade. Join the feast of Creole classics with oysters Rockefeller covered in a lava of pureed greens, fried trout prepared amandine style, and pompano heightened by the sweetness of brown butter and crabmeat. Arrive by 11:30 a.m. for a midday meal: The restaurant doesn't accept reservations for the soigné downstairs dining room, but it is the only acceptable place to sit. Read the Full Review Here


Heartland's cassoulet

St. Paul, MN

Heartland

At his Twin Cities restaurant, chef-owner Lenny Russo goes the locavore distance: Around 90 percent of the food at Heartland and its adjacent market comes from within a 300-mile radius. There's nothing fussy or self-satisfied about the experience. The substantial bar menu includes four burgers (beef, pork, veal, and bison) and fun, smart riffs on snacks like smoked kielbasa corn dogs or cheese curds with apricot ketchup. In the main room, entrees dole out bear hugs of direct, honest flavors: The "Midwestern Cassoulet" defrosts with its mix of lusty meats and silken white beans delivered from nearby Encore Farms. Russo's devotion to culinary Minnesota is evident in every forkful. Read the Full Review Here


Hominy Grill interior

Charleston, SC

Hominy Grill

If luminary Charleston chefs like Sean Brock and Mike Lata represent the untethered creativity that Southern ingredients can inspire, then Robert Stehling and his Hominy Grill offer a window into traditional Lowcountry recipes. This is a place worth returning to again and again to savor creamy she-crab soup laced with sherry, chicken bog (a kin of jambalaya), and gossamer coconut layer cake. Hordes descend on the weekends for favorites like the Charleston Nasty biscuit, with its crackling-hot hunk of fried chicken smothered in melting cheddar and sausage gravy. Better to come on a weekday afternoon, when the two dining rooms in the historic clapboard house are quieter, to enjoy a vegetable plate with collard greens and Charleston red rice amped with bacon and tomato. Read the Full Review Here


Husk Fried Chicken Bill Addison/Eater

The fried chicken at Husk Nashville

Nashville, TN

Husk Nashville

Chef Sean Brock insists on heritage pig breeds, dotes on the charcuterie aging in closets at his restaurants, and fries chicken in a meaty mélange that includes bacon fat and rendered country ham. But notice the garden patch of vegetable tattoos running the length of his left arm: He’s as invested in flora as he is in fauna, and the daily-changing menus at his restaurants venerate the region’s abundance. The "Plate of Southern Vegetables" is a must-order dish at Brock’s Tennessee outpost. Its humble name belies the symphonic harmonies of produce that appear in freckled ceramic bowls on a wooden platter. I love the original Husk in Charleston, with the gentle lilt of Lowcountry flavors that run through the food. I’m even more enamored with the Nashville location, where the cooking embraces both tradition and rewarding experimentation — and it’s where Brock serves that astounding fried chicken as a daily lunch special. Read the Full Review Here


Minetta Tavern cote de boeuf

Minetta Tavern's cote de boeuf [Photo: Nick Solares]

New York, NY

Minetta Tavern

Institutions like Peter Luger and Keens may claim broader cultural cachet, but Minetta Tavern is the New York steakhouse of fantasies. At first glance, the place conjures a Parisian side-street bistro: caramel lighting, dishes like roast chicken and pig’s trotter with mustard. Notice, though, the caricatures on the walls, the checkered floors, the red booths, and the short but precise list of dry-aged steaks. The Greenwich Village institution, which began its long run in the 1930s and was resuscitated by restaurateur Keith McNally in 2009, at its core feels fundamentally American. Minetta’s dry-aged côte de boeuf isn’t just one of the best steaks in Manhattan. With its permutations of mineral, funk, and blue cheese and its amplified, concentrated beefiness, it easily muscles its way into the national steak elite. Soloists can slide onto a bar stool for a dirty martini and the righteous Black Label burger. Read the Full Review Here


Bill Addison

Roberta's Da Kine pizza

Brooklyn, NY

Roberta's

The concrete barracks motif; the outdoor tiki bar that serves more amaro than rum; the line of devotees resigned to their hour-plus wait for a table: Roberta's doubtlessly owns its Brooklyn-ness. But the direction of chef Carlo Mirarchi has defied easy categorization since the restaurant opened in 2008. He takes the menu's scope past the narrow focus of a classic pizzeria, though seafood-vegetable sonatas like grilled mussels with carrots and lime, or scallops with English peas and peaches never seem too haughty for the environment. Nor does the attention to clever small plates and dinner pastas eclipse the stellar pizzas ever-emerging from the wood-burning oven. It's a masterful balance and a lucid reminder: One never knows what will arise as a singularity in the dining universe. Read the Full Review Here


The Whale Wins

Seattle, WA

The Whale Wins

The Walrus and the Carpenter, Renee Erickson's Seattle smash hit, deserves its local and national praise: It helped advance the trend for oyster bars to reach beyond serving simple, immaculate seafood. Yet at her newer restaurant in the Fremont-Wallingford area, Erickson takes Walrus's culinary aesthetic and pushes the ideas further. Dishes are saucier, riskier, and the flavors zigzag more sharply. Pacific Northwest seafood still dominates. The kitchen shows its breadth, though, with punchy lamb tartare or shimmery eggplant puree cushioning chickpeas, white beans, pole beans, and Parmesan. The loft space can roll with Seattle's seasons — bright and cozy enough to stave off the misty months, airy enough to stream with light when the sun finally shines. Read the Full Review Here


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Rockfish on toast at Woodberry Kitchen

Baltimore, MD

Woodberry Kitchen

These days at least one chef in every midsize American city leads a committed charge toward local sourcing and building lasting relationships with nearby farms. In Baltimore, it was Spike Gjerde. But in the last couple of years, the direction of his restaurant (which opened in 2007) has deepened. Many more dishes now directly reference Maryland heritage throughout the year: oyster stew, chicken and biscuits, crab cakes with tartar sauce, rockfish in several preparations. There are nods to Baltimore's long-standing immigrant communities, including roasted kielbasa with potato salad and Greek salad. Quirky, endearing recipes of the Chesapeake region have sadly started disappearing; they've found an able champion in Gjerde. Read the Full Review Here

CASUAL GREATNESS

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The bacon melt at Cochon Butcher

Restaurants that don’t need white tablecloths and wine programs to qualify as destinations


Cochon Butcher's muffuletta

New Orleans, LA

Cochon Butcher

Donald Link, one of the Crescent City's pivotal chef-restaurateurs, first conceived of his sandwich shop both as an adjunct to his pork paean Cochon and as tribute to the Cajun groceries he grew up visiting near Lake Charles, Louisiana. The boudin (rice-studded pork sausage) that Link serves is an ambassador of the form, true to his people's traditions but on the gentle end of the spectrum. Savor it before devouring bready marvels like a redefining muffuletta (stacked with housemade charcuterie on a billowy sesame loaf) and the bacon melt (layered with tender stewed collard greens, making the construct a sort of Southern polemic on toast). This past April, Link and business partner Stephen Stryjewski added 2,000 square feet to Butcher. The space now seats 120 and includes a full bar, but the line for ordering continues to trail out the door. Read the Full Review Here


Barbecue platter at Franklin Barbecue

Austin, TX

Franklin Barbecue

After standing for hours in the unforgiving Austin sun, you’ve earned a tray full of every smoked meat that America’s most famous barbecue joint offers: peppery pork ribs, sausages that pop against the teeth, turkey bathing in butter to counteract its leanness. Just be sure to order extra brisket for later. It’s Aaron Franklin’s masterwork, a feat of smolder and flesh that reset the already towering standards in the Lone Star barbecue world. Not only is the brisket so silken that, beyond the charred exterior, it has an almost pudding-like texture. It’s also incredibly consistent. Throw on sides of mustardy potato salad, meat-flecked pinto beans, and a slice of bourbon-banana pie and you have a lunch that’s downright patriotic. Read the Full Review Here


The exterior of Prince's Hot Chicken Shack

Nashville, TN

Prince's Hot Chicken Shack

Nashville hot chicken is, well, catching fire nationally. It shines like a radioactive artifact from Mars, this bird first fried and then coated in cayenne paste. Chefs in cities as diverse as Atlanta, Philadelphia, New York, and Chicago are serving fiery versions. These days Nashville is littered with hot chicken joints. A trip to Prince’s — run by the family whose ancestor, Thornton Prince III, likely invented the genre in the 1930s — is mandatory. It resides in a nondescript strip mall, but a line always trails through the room. Choose from among mild, medium, hot, and extra hot. The latter is known to cause whole-body discomfort, and I gushed sweat while eating the hot option. My nose tingled and my scalp prickled, but I ate every morsel. Read the Full Review Here

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Lobster at L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon

Brilliant multicourse feasts that double as thoughtful, intricately plotted experiences


Trois Mec Beef

Tenderloin with smoked peanut butter and charred broccoli at Trois Mec

Los Angeles, CA

Trois Mec

Ludo Lefebvre was chef at Los Angeles’s Gallic luminaries like L’Orangerie and Bastide before finding his true métier staging sold-out pop-ups called LudoBites. He channels his collective experiences into the restaurant he opened in 2013 with Animal’s Vinny Dotolo and Jon Shook. Trois Mec hides in plain sight in a squat Hollywood strip mall, and snagging $100 tickets (available on troismec.com) for a five-course tasting menu is like scoring seats to watch a rock god play an intimate venue, and the effort pays off in every way. Lefebvre and his crew can distill the Golden State into a few bites with dishes like Dungeness crab ceviche dotted with citrus and overlaid with avocado. Proteins may hide under showers of frizzled shallots or blankets of spice, but the balanced flavors sing in perfect pitch. Don’t want to deal with the ticket hassle? Go on an off-hour next door to the threesome’s new, no-reservations venture, Petit Trois, for bistro classics like escargots in the shells or a strikingly blond omelet. Read the Full Review Here


Onions warmed in butter and milk with oregano and bread crumbs at Oxheart

Houston, TX

Oxheart

Justin Yu may be the country’s most visionary vegetable chef, combining ingredients that are ravishing to the eyes and electric on the palate. At his restaurant in Houston’s Warehouse District near downtown, he offers two six-course menus: one focuses solely on flora, but both of them are meditations on the harvest. In October the meal started with two types of persimmons and dried peach in thumb-size cups made from pickled pumpkin. They were like edible calendars; the taste unmistakably conveyed Texas in autumn. Yu and his diverse corps of cooks compose plates with painterly splatters or studied tableaux on stunning earthenware, but the space — brick walls, central counter, Tina Turner or the Go-Go’s on the turntable — disarms any chance at pretension. Read the Full Review Here


Torino's strawberry and spruce dessert

Ferndale, MI

Torino

The Detroit suburb of Ferndale is an unlikely stage for some of the country’s most promising culinary talent. Torino opened as an espresso and cocktail bar in a condo building in 2011. Business dragged until owner Noah Dorfman met Garrett Lipar, a young chef and fellow Michigan native who’d staged at Michelin stargazers like Alinea. Dorfman green-lit Lipar to start serving tasting menus (initially from a closet-sized kitchen) spangled with New Nordic flavors and modernist fillips. Thing is, Lipar has the alchemical touch of a chef beyond his years: He knows how to make Midwestern ingredients taste fresh and true to their essence but also amplified. His nine-course, $89 menus typically start with a bento box, filled perhaps with three variations on a vegetable, and then plates grow more experimental but never alienating. Ian Redmond, the beverage manager, mind-melds wine with the food: In the summer, he wittily paired a Greek Xinomavro with a dish of fried eggplant, roasted tomatoes, and honey aioli that recalled moussaka. Read the Full Review Here


The interior of L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon

Las Vegas, NV

L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon

Joël Robuchon, one of France’s fine dining masters, reemerged from early retirement more than a decade ago to launch his "workshops," where diners perch around counters overlooking a black box theater of a kitchen. He helped forward the now-prevalent notion that refined food — astounding in its complexity and stylized plating — can ensnare an audience grippingly in a casual setting. Opting for a ten-course, $169 tasting menu or a piecemeal dinner runs nearly the same cost, so surrender to the prix fixe for a directed tour through Robuchon’s aesthetic. It may begin with whipped avocado paired with grapefruit gelée and spiked with chile, climax with foie gras-stuffed quail shaped like sausage links alongside the chef’s famous potato puree, and conclude with a modern sculpture of caramel mousse, black pepper financier cake, and popcorn ice cream. Read the Full Review Here

LUXURY DONE RIGHT

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Blue Hill at Stone Barns

Standard-bearers for hospitality and artful cooking that prove the value of a little opulence now and then


The Alinea kitchen

Chicago, IL

Alinea

Since chef-wunderkind Grant Achatz and his partner Nick Kokonas opened the restaurant in 2005, surprise has been a key tool at modernist Alinea. Given the molecular mythology around the place, and how early gimmicks (like butterscotch-coated bacon dangling from a wire gizmo) stuck in people’s heads, what might amaze most about a meal at Alinea circa now is its accessibility. That’s not to say the approach is played out or predictable. But Achatz and executive chef Mike Bagale are in a phase where much of their food comments on pop culture in ways that are wry yet tangible. Now more than ever, we’re in on the jokes. The service staff—comprised, on my summer visit, mostly of men wearing beards and skinny-fit suits—has never been smoother. They pace the evening with balletic finesse, and though they come off as ultra-professional, they also seem like a bunch of guys with whom you wouldn’t mind throwing back some beers. Read the Full Review Here


Benu Dumpling

Pork, oyster, and kimchi dumpling at Benu

San Francisco, CA

Benu

Chef-owner Corey Lee spent four years at The French Laundry as chef de cuisine, and his cooking reflects the refined playfulness of his old boss, Thomas Keller. But in his ability to fuse cultures through ingredients and techniques and imagination, Lee stands alone. Lee looks primarily to his native Korea and to China for inspiration. For every dish that skews European — say, a beggar's purse filled with Iberico ham and truffles — there are three (soup dumplings with lobster coral, XO sausage with basil bean curd, faux shark fin's soup with Dungeness crab and Chinese ham custard) that nod to the East. On plate after plate, textures are as pyrotechnic as the flavors. His pork and oyster dumpling is a bionic version broken down to its component parts, reconstructed, and made more powerful. It’s an example of the edge on which knowledgeable diners want to dance these days. We want to be pampered, but also dared. Read the Full Review Here


Stone Barns

Tomatoes with shears at Blue Hill at Stone Barns

Pocantico Hills, NY

Blue Hill at Stone Barns

In Dan Barber’s hands, the next evolution in fine dining requires a pair of gardening shears. Tomatoes arrive still attached to their vines, and greens (identified as "weeds") come woven through a mini-trellis. Every course at Barber’s restaurant — on the farmed grounds of the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, about 45 minutes outside New York City — pulls the countryside into the dining room. This could come off as a tad precious, and that’s where the unusually engaged front-of-house staff plays a critical role. Servers share their knowledge with equal parts wit and reverence, whether it’s detailing a parade of charcuterie or discussing the fine points of a wheat strain that Barber is developing. With their gracious pacing and their teamwork with the kitchen to tailor each table’s experience, education is coupled with a sense of luxury. And at some point in the evening, staffers also guide guests to enjoy part of meal in another area on the property, perhaps an intimate corner of the patio or in a former manure shed turned cozy enclave. Read the Full Review Here


Frasca Venison

Venison at Frasca

Boulder, CO

Frasca Food and Wine

Frasca’s co-owners, front-of-the-house ace Bobby Stuckey and chef Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson, handle their respective posts with equal distinction. Stuckey and his team know how to gauge guests and reset their moods with calming assurance. Their affable welcome sets the tone for a spectacular meal of specialties from the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region of northeastern Italy. That translates to dishes like riso marinara, lush with shellfish; speckled buckwheat pasta lacy with chicken and matsutake mushrooms; and roasted pork chop with feisty Friulian pork sausage. Stuckey earned the title of Master Sommelier as well as a James Beard Foundation award for Outstanding Wine Service. The breadth and detail of the beverage list may cause you to drift from table conversation. Read the Full Review Here

GLOBAL AMERICAN FLAVORS

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The namesake arroz gordo at Fat Rice in Chicago

Pacesetters who shine international cuisines through a uniquely American prism


Inside Chi Spacca

Los Angeles, CA

Chi Spacca

The third L.A. success story from Nancy Silverton, Mario Batali, and Joe Bastianich shrewdly weaves the appeal of an American steakhouse into a meat-focused Italian restaurant. The $175 costata alla Fiorentina is a 42-ounce T-bone centerpiece sliced into crimson dominoes. It delivers every expression of charred, marbled beef one hopes for, and it is only one of Chi Spacca’s fundamental pleasures. Chef Chad Colby sets his charcuterie program apart with astounding salamis, blocks of complex pâté, and pig rendered to "pork butter." The don’t-miss contribution from pastry virtuoso Silverton: reengineered focaccia di Recco, a Ligurian flatbread layered with aged stracchino that in her hands transforms into a crackery splendor golden as a sunset. Ever-changing salads offset the flurry of carbs and calories. Down the block, Osteria Mozza and Pizzeria Mozza remain paragons of West Coast dining, but Chi Spacca is currently the most dynamic of the trio. Read the Full Review Here


Almond gelée with peaches, plums, and basil seeds at Fat Rice

Chicago, IL

Fat Rice

At their always-packed Chicago trailblazer, chef-owners Adrienne Lo and Abraham Conlon decode the cooking of Macao and other postcolonial Portuguese cuisines. Arroz gordo, a specialty of Macanese home cooks, forever dispels the notion that fusion cuisine began with wasabi mashed potatoes. Their version — which includes Chinese and Portuguese sausages, chile prawns, and turmeric-stained chicken thighs over a foundation of spiced rice — is two parts history and one part self-expression. Save room for dishes that draw from other port cultures along the spice routes, like okra and shrimp scented with lemony curry leaves or piri-piri chicken lit up from fiery tomato-peanut sauce. Read the Full Review Here


La Casita Mexicana's chile en nogada

Bell, CA

La Casita Mexicana

With the hundreds of transcendent taquerias, taco trucks, mariscos, and other Mexican specialty outlets in the Los Angeles metro area, why single out this cenaduria (supper club) in the nearby working-class town of Bell? The pork smothered in fluffy, sage-colored mole made from pistachios and anise-nipped hoja santa, for starters. Also the chile en nogada, a seasonal stunner of roasted poblano first stuffed with ground beef, fruits, nuts, and sweet spices and then gilded with pecan cream sauce and pomegranate seeds. Subtle and haunting, they typify the restaurant’s unique, sensuously calibrated cooking. Chef-owners Jaime Martin del Campo and Ramiro Arvizu are stars in the Spanish-speaking world: They demo dishes on Univision and appear as judges on Telemundo’s Top Chef Estrellas. Traffic to Bell can be brutal from L.A. at night; consider a mole-fueled lunch or even a memorable breakfast of chilaquiles with chipotle. Read the Full Review Here


Oleana

Oleana's Cacik

Boston, MA

Oleana

Ana Sortun was an early translator of cuisines from Turkey and the Middle East, shaping the region's warm, tingling flavors into accessible adaptations. Nearly 15 years in, her first of three restaurants remains very much germane. Sortun's food, even when occasionally pulling from current American trends, tastes true to the lands of their inspiration. Yogurt has emerged as a garnish and ready-made sauce on restaurant dishes across all genres, but eat here for a dairy master class. Cacik, a classic Turkish dip, blends labneh with spinach, mint, cucumber, and garlic. A yogurt filling gives overplayed burrata a fresh, tangy twist. Small plates like these, and others built around seasonal vegetables and meats, steal focus on the menu. Pastry chef Maura Kilpatrick sees Oleana's theme through with Turkish profiteroles filled with brown-butter cream, slicked with sesame caramel, and finished with crumbled halva and cashews. Read the Full Review Here


Pok Pok Interior

Inside Pok Pok [Photo Dina Avila]

Portland, OR

Pok Pok

Andy Ricker, with four restaurants in Portland and three in New York, has proven to be a careful, populist translator of Thai cuisine. At his flagship Pok Pok, the signature charcoal-roasted hen — heady with garlic, stuffed with lemongrass, and served alongside sauces pungent with flavors like tamarind — opens a portal to fiercer, funkier pleasures: coriander-scented boar’s collar, catfish fried in turmeric oil, Chiang Mai sausage booming with fish sauce. Curbside crowds perpetually linger outside the restaurant, flanked by shack-like patios festive with Christmas lights. If you’ve come just to satisfy a craving for the famous sticky-spicy chicken wings, skip the wait at Pok Pok and order a round at Ricker’s mellower Whiskey Soda Lounge across the street. Read the Full Review Here


Raku

Las Vegas, NV

Raku

Since it opened in 2008, Aburiya Raku — known mostly as Raku — has been the main culinary attraction luring visitors to Las Vegas’s Chinatown, less than a ten-minute cab ride from the Strip. Chef-owner Mitsuo Endo’s métier is the robata grill, where he cooks yakitori (proteins and vegetables on skewers) over oak binchotan charcoal. Meats emerge in varying degrees of smoky, juicy, and caramelized. Seafood is singed only to the point of heightening its sweetness. Mushrooms gain beefy savor. Endo’s menu has enough scope to please myriad tastes. Connoisseurs of Japanese cooking will revere the freshly made half-wheel of oyaji tofu with condiments of chile pepper flakes, chives, and preserved mustard greens. It’s the burrata of bean curds. After the feast, indulge in a theatrical dessert at sister restaurant Sweets Raku. Read the Full Review Here


Tei An spread

Soba and tempura at Tei-An

Dallas, TX

Tei-An

If Dallas doesn’t rank as one of the country’s great bastions of Asian cuisines, North Texas food lovers nonetheless know that they have something special in Teiichi Sakurai. At Tei-An, he devotes himself to soba, which is famously querulous to form and cut due to its high buckwheat content. We’re living in the age of ramen, the extrovert among Japanese noodles with its steamy pork-bone broth and its garnishes of just-set egg, whiskery scallions, and glossy meats. Soba, best eaten simply to appreciate its subtleties, can by comparison seem dull. There is nothing banal, though, about Sakurai’s taupe strands. They have life force. Savor them cold on a wicker basket with dipping sauces or hot in an elegant soup with soy-dashi broth. To best understand the full measure of Sakurai’s mastery, call ahead and request the seven-course, $100 omakase that often includes A5 wagyu beef and seasonal fish. Soba is always the finale. Read the Full Review Here


Goat barbacoa at Topolobampo

Chicago, IL

Topolobampo

No figure in American cooking has done more to turn our attention away from loaded nachos and sizzling fajitas, and toward the glories of regional Mexican flavors, than Rick Bayless. Topolobampo — the crown jewel of the chef, cookbook author, teacher, and television host’s seven restaurants — celebrated its 25th anniversary this fall. Bayless continues to refresh Topolo’s approach so it stays current. These days, the kitchen groups the menu into categories of dishes that reflect their defining characteristics: "fresh," "enchanting," "complex," "luxurious." The format succeeds because the dishes evoke the slow heat and spicy insinuations of rustic Mexican cooking: Bright, nuanced ceviches segue to beef tongue in nutty pipian rojo or goat barbacoa in a broth of braising juices and red chiles. Even now, few true-minded upscale Mexican restaurants thrive in the U.S., but Topolo has kept its edge as a south-of-the-border lodestar. Read the Full Review Here


Underbelly interior

The interior of Underbelly

Houston, TX

Underbelly

Chris Shepherd created his restaurant to engender a literal sense of place: Its credo is "The Story of Houston Food." His menu addresses the city's Cajun-Southern-Texan crossroads with a combo plate of boudin, cracklins, and pickled okra and giddy debaucheries like chicken-fried pot roast with porky green beans and cornbread. But in equal measure Shepherd looks to the mom-and-pop restaurants in Houston's many immigrant communities for inspiration. Pork belly Thai curry might share table space with flatiron carne asada served with green chiles or Korean rice sticks napped in a gochujang (chile paste) and flossy goat meat. The crowds in the dining room rewardingly mirror the inclusive cooking. Read the Full Review Here


Salatim at Zahav

Philadelphia, PA

Zahav

Michael Solomonov's Philadelphia flagship, arguably the propeller of the modern Middle Eastern cooking trend currently gaining traction nationwide, is destination-worthy purely for the revelatory sophistication of his Israeli cooking. But since Solomonov's homeland is the melting pot of the Middle East, eating at Zahav also serves as a primer on the region’s myriad cuisines. The hummus selection alone invokes Palestine, Egypt, and (with an especially seductive version pooled with butter) Turkey. Salatim, small salads that begin meals in Israel, includes carrots glazed with North African harissa and parsley-heavy tabbouleh in the Lebanese style. Mezze plates span cultures even farther afield, including a Yemenite beef stew and the house-smoked sable paired with an oozing fried egg over challah, a nod to Ashkenazi Jewish influences. Gather a group for a mind-opening feast and preorder the breathtaking smoked lamb shoulder braised in pomegranate juice. Read the Full Review Here

Restaurant Editor Bill Addison traveled the country all last year to chronicle what's happening in America's dining scene and to formulate this list of the essential 38 restaurants in the nation.

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